Monday, June 29, 2015

Photo-of-the-Week #218 Another Sad Story, Silver Springs, Ocala, Florida, February 2014

Silver Springs, home of the famous glass bottom boats and a major tourist attraction opening its gates in 1852. The glass bottom boat tours began around 1870. Silver Springs was one of Florida's first tourist attractions. In 1971 it was designated a National Natural Landmark. . . READ MORE

Saturday, June 27, 2015

“Letting go gives us freedom . . .

. . . and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything - anger, anxiety, or possessions - we cannot be free.”   

Thích Nhất Hạnh, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

I'm not a Buddhist. But, unlike yours truly, the Buddha could say a lot in just a few words. I don't know if it was much different in his times, but in an age when we have so much, we seem to have  a huge challenge in "letting go."

I spoke about this concept in my 12 Steps for Living Free. I understand from personal experience - and interestingly, I'm still learning about letting go. It is certainly a challenge for anyone desiring to realize what real personal freedom is about and how happiness and peace of mind follow in lock step.

Just a thought to ponder on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Buy! Buy! Buy! The War Cry of the Consumer Society

Buy! Buy! BUY! That's the theme on HSN, the Home Shopping Network, today. For those few people (and I'm sure it's very few) who are not familiar with HSN, it's one of the two major television and on-line selling networks. They do nothing on these networks except Sell! Sell! Sell! That's all they do 24/7/365. How do I know? My friend, where my eastern base camp is located in West Virginia is, I'll use the term, semi-addicted. Either HSN or QVC, the second major selling network, are on her television much of the waking hours of her day.

What Do They Sell?

Everything (just about)! The primary target audience is women. Does that surprise you? In the 1st World, developed, nations headed by the U.S. and western Europe, most women seem to be groomed from infancy through adulthood to "shop til you drop."

Go to any major (or even discount) department store and do a visual measurement of the square footage allocated to women's clothes, shoes, cosmetics/toiletries, household furnishings, the kitchen and bathroom. Compare that with the amount of space allocated to men's clothing, shoes, tools/hardware, automotive things (you won't find either of those two categories in high end department stores) and sporting goods. Typically it will be 2:1 to 3:1 in favor of the women. The second largest space is often the children's department including clothes, shoes, toys and games.

Here are a few simple examples. Compare the women's underwear/lingerie section to the men's. Compare the women's bathing suit section to the men's. Compare the women's toiletries including make-up and anti-aging, wrinkle removing agents to men's. Need I go on?

Selling Pencils

I once listened to an interview with a former home shopping network host. I don't recall which of the two major networks he said he worked for. During the dialogue the former host said he went for an audition for a host job on the particular network he ended up employed by. For his audition, the interviewer (probably a program producer) handed him a standard, #2, yellow pencil with the typical pink eraser on the one end. He was then told to talk about the features and benefits of that pencil for ten minutes, non-stop, without being redundant.

If you have never, but have the gumption to watch one of these networks, you will notice a few interesting things. Everyone of the hosts is very personable and becomes intimate (not that way) with viewers on as personal a level as possible. It's like she (mainly) or he has been your friend since childhood. You'd feel comfortable revealing your most intimate secrets to them. Second, they talk incessantly. I mean, I don't think they breathe sometimes. They go on and on and on and on and on. Third, they use the word "only" very freely when referring to the prices. It may be the second most powerful marketing word next to "free."

They have absolutely no problem minimizing the value of money. "This little fanny pack is only a little $20.00 bill." "At less than $30.00 (actually $29.95), you'll love this top (blouse) and you'll want to have it in at least black and one or two other colors because it will be useful with so many different outfits."

Frankly, the home shopping networks and the (what now seems like, almost monthly) constant pledge drives by public TV and public radio stations are, to me, the most annoying uses of mass media (TV and radio). Don't get me wrong, I like both public TV and radio. But, the over priced "gifts" and the constant interruptions of the programs to listen to a 20 minute infomercial begging session drive me away from the stations. There is no begging on the shopping channels. It's just incessant babble and semi-high pressure sales methodology. If the viewers are addicted enough, a significant number of them will breakdown and buy something they really don't need and often don't really want.

It's kind of like the yard/garage/moving sale buyer mentality. I see this when I wander through those sales with my friend. I witnessed it first hand when people came to my nearly two month long moving sale toward the end of 2008. People will buy things they really don't need and weren't looking for. It's like they feel some form of guilt or obligation to buy something because they came and looked. I found this interesting at my sale. People bought some of the most inane items. I don't know why I even had the stuff or where it came from. They bypassed the really good, useful stuff. I guess they don't want to spend that much money (many won't try making an offer). So, they'll take some piece of crap home adding it to their collection of "useless stuff."

Cosmetics, Anti-aging/Wrinkle Removing Creams, Jewelry, Purses, Belts, Shoes, Kitchen Appliances, Cookware, Kitchen Aids, Computers, Laptops, Tablets (iPads), Large, Flat Screen, 3D, High Definition Televisions, Bose Wave Radios, Etc., Etc.

This is only a small list of the most popular items sold on shopping channels day in and day out, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Yes! We are talking about multi-billion dollar businesses and they don't even have retail stores and warehouses all over the U.S. with the massive overhead. How much or how many of any of these things does anyone need? Way! Way less than they buy from these shopping channels.

There is one, cute, pudgy German celebrity chef who has numerous restaurants. He's on one of the networks several times a year. He and the incessantly chattering host sell his own branded kitchen appliances, food preparation aids and accessory items most of us have done without and still eat good tasting, healthy and substantial food. I dare say he makes what Bill and Hillary Clinton make from their outrageously, over priced speaking engagements pale in comparison. I saw over $4,000,000.00 in sales in one day for a single item. He was selling multiple items for three days. Most of us could retire early and live a luxurious lifestyle off what he personally clears from one of his three day appearances.

How much jewelry does any woman need? Why are we, especially women, so afraid of growing old? Women will pay hundreds or maybe thousands of dollars each year buying way overpriced creams and goop to make them look younger. Here's a clue, YOU'RE NOT YOUNGER! If you're 50, you're 50. If you're 75, you're 75. Deal with it. It's reality.

The same applies to make-up. It's interesting. Men don't wear make-up, yet women are attracted to them. Women, hide behind a mask of goop. Is it because they might be afraid to be seen as who they really are. This seems to go along with the old phrase, "the honeymoon is over." That's when the mask comes off. I hate to say it, but we men, probably play a bigger part in this than we realize. We don't want the women in our lives to change. We want them to remain like they were when we met them.

Of course, I'm expressing personal views and opinions. Personally, the women who attract me the most are the ones who wear the least amount of make up and allow their true selves to show. When a woman is all made up, sure, she looks nice, maybe almost perfect. But, guess what? I've figured it out, she's wearing a mask. Who is really behind that mask? That's who I really want to know.

It's like some of the scanty clothes women wear these days. Itty bitty bikinis, skin tight pants or shorts, very revealing tops. They say it's the mystique, leaving something to the imagination. The other interesting thing is, the less cloth and the more exposed skin there is, the more expensive the items of clothing seem to be.

But, that's okay. This is a game that's been played by "proper, civilized societies" for centuries. It just seems like an awfully expensive game, with the cost of women's clothes, make up and jewelry, to put on a mask and hide the real person. I guess as a person who has finally discovered the error in his ways, I see things through my own simplistic viewer. I don't need filters or masks for me to be attracted to someone of the opposite gender. I'm more attracted to a woman who is as confident and comfortable in her skin in a pair of jeans and tee shirt, or shorts or simple skirt or dress, clean and (simply) groomed. Then I can focus on who she actually is rather than who she wants me to think she is.

Of course, if women (mainly), but certainly there are plenty of men who hide behind masks and facades, too, would turn off the shopping channels (as one source of expending endless amounts of money on fantasy lives), our economy would slide down the drain. We are a society that exists mainly to consume stuff, all kinds of stuff and in huge quantities, often without rhyme or reason for any of it.

From a time 400 to 250 years ago we were a very simple, self-reliant society. We've evolved to become the largest consuming nation in the world. Good? Bad? That judgment is above my pay grade. I just know where my values are and what I like and need. Regardless of what I say or think, the HSNs, QVCs, Amazons, Walmarts, Macys, Kohls, Buy.coms, etc. will continue with their "war cry" "Buy! Buy! BUY!"    

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Photo-of-the-Week #217 An Angry Ocean, Outer Banks, Duck, North Carolina, January 2002

With all the storms hitting the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf Coast over the past few weeks, this very old photo seemed apropos for this week's photo. I dug this one up from files that go back about 13 1/2 years ago when I first began experimenting with a very simple digital camera. Obviously, the resolution of the inexpensive little box was very low compared to the high resolution sensors that have evolved since that time. The reality is this camera didn't even have an LCD screen on the back. Yes! I was still a 35mm film photographer at the time. . . READ MORE

Thursday, June 18, 2015

"It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere." Voltaire

A thought for the day. Freedom has been on the hearts and minds of men and women since the beginning of human time. Yet, it may be one of the most elusive facets of humanity.

There is lots of rhetoric about being free, personal or individual freedom and living free. Unfortunately, the major purpose of any governing body or entity is control. I'm not sure I've ever met a truly, free person. As long as you live in a society, regardless of how big or small, there is virtually always someone attempting to impose their will or control on you.

It begins as simply as in the nuclear family with its obvious hierarchy. Then it moves up through schools, jobs, religious institutions, businesses, community and homeowners associations, town and city governments, county and state governments and then the national or federal governments. And, we could even push the envelope and suggest the United Nations, World Courts and so on, impress certain degrees of their will on people.

Sure! We're going to say that we need this control, the laws, rules, regulations, ordinances, codes, covenants, etc. to have and live in an orderly society. This is, essentially, true. That's why there are no truly free people in our world. And, of course, the idea that we are controlled, limited, restricted, etc. by tens of thousands of these laws, rules, codes, etc. and the entities that enact them doesn't make it easy to realize what it might be like to be truly free.

What's even more interesting is how there are laws, etc. made by one governing body that can override the rules made by another governing body. What's with that? It wasn't really always that way. When most governing bodies (national or otherwise) begin, they have all good intentions. Time is the enemy as well as the human traits that begin to immediately infringe, step on, violate . . . choose your own word . . . the rights of others.

I espouse living free. I claim to be living freer and happier than I ever have in my life. Within the "system" I am living free. Well, certainly freer than the majority of the population. By choice, I live in a "tin can tent" aka "My McVansion." By choice, I don't own any property that would in anyway restrict my mobility and freedom to roam. By choice, I've eliminated most of the major overhead that the majority of the population are concerned with every month, month in and month out. By choice, I personally limit my exposure and contact with significant segments of society.

I don't necessarily agree with Voltaire's use of the word "fools." Granted, there are certainly millions, maybe even a billion or more fools who qualify under that term. What I do see is the vast population of the world not really grasping the true meaning of what it means to be free.

These are the people who willingly accept the, so-called, "chains" Voltaire said they revere. I don't believe they revere them and I don't believe they recognize them as chains. From birth until death, humans are under constant indoctrination. As society progresses, more laws are made and enforced, the continual indoctrination evolves to keep people marching in line.

I dare say we are less free today than we were 50 years ago. Next year we'll be less free and the year after and the year after that. As the world population continues to increase, more and more laws, rules, codes, etc. will be enacted and enforced. Humans will conform to them because, I believe we live with a certain "herd" mentality and disposition. Some call it tribal, I believe it's more like a herd.

So, is there really anyplace where you can be free? I dare say, possibly, the last frontier of true, individual freedom is in the human mind and spirit. So far, to the best of my knowledge, no one has legislated how you think or what you think about. There certainly are efforts in that direction with what appears to be certain new incursions to our freedom of speech. There is also this thing called "political correctness." Considering the mores displayed by so many of the "elected" representatives, I don't see much that's correct when the word "political" is joined with it. Political correctness is a form of government and social order groups mind control.

Life is a fantastic, miraculous gift. It's not fair. It's not without challenges, obstacles, pitfalls and other negative influences and events. However, within our mind, heart and spirit, to the degree we don't infringe upon or maliciously injure anyone else in any manner, we are still free to dream, to plan, to set goals, to achieve whatever it is in the world we want to - IN OUR MINDS. The moment you open your mouth and verbalize, write it or depict it in some visual manner, you may be subject to breaking a law or code of civilization.

Let's hope that we don't add a new level of government agencies to the numerous entities operating under the umbrella of Homeland Security - "The Mind Police" - that will be able to invade our one last sacred frontier of individual freedom. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Photos-of-the-Week #216 - A Day On The Farm, West Branch, Iowa, June 2015

What I visit I had to a family owned and operated farm in West Branch, Iowa. Some readers of this blog were born and raised on farms, so you know about what it takes to operate such an enterprise.

My friend, Jolene Brown, a woman I met through my professional speaker affiliations, has invited me on several occasions to visit the family farm she and her husband own and operate in West Branch, Iowa, when I might be passing through that area. I finally did get through her part of the world and took her up on the invitation. Wow! What an education I received about the field of agriculture. . . READ MORE AND SEE MORE PHOTOS

Friday, June 12, 2015

Nathan, The Walmart Greeter, Pontiac, Illinois, June 3, 2015

Allow me to introduce you to Nathan, a Walmart Greeter in Pontiac, Illinois. Nathan is a very special person and I'm so glad I had the great fortune of meeting this young man while on my trek heading back to the eastern U.S.

When I met young Nathan, we were washing out hands in the men's restroom at the Pontiac, Illinois Walmart Supercenter. Nathan was very friendly and very courteous, starting a conversation with something like, "I hope you're having a wonderful day, Sir!" I said I was and wished him the same. He then went on and asked if I shopped at this Walmart regularly and I said I didn't, I was just passing through on my way from the west coast back to the east coast. His inquisitiveness was both innocent and refreshing. I knew there was something special about this young man.

Nathan then asked where I came from (meaning, where did I consider home) and I gave him a very short "elevator speech" about not having a fixed home any longer and being based in South Dakota, but I had lived in New York, Maryland and Virginia and I was born and raised in New Jersey. This brief resume seem to delight him and he became very enthusiastic when I mentioned New Jersey. His response was "New Jersey! Wow! I've never been to New Jersey."

By this time we had left the men's restroom and he just kept repeating, "Wow! New Jersey." It was almost as though I had arrived from the Land of Oz. Again, throughout the entire conversation, brief as it was, he was always polite and courteous and his enthusiasm (at about 10:00 AM) was infectious.

At this time, I knew his name from his name badge, though I hadn't read his job title. I discovered that later. I decided to stop at the Subway shop in the Walmart and partake in one of their breakfast sandwiches. While I was sitting there enjoying my breakfast, I heard some music playing that definitely didn't sound like it was standard "Muzak" background sound. I craned my neck a bit attempting to discern where the music was originating. When the music wasn't playing, I would see Nathan walking around that end of the store doing various "chores."

It wasn't until I finished my breakfast that I realized the music was emanating from a folding table set up at the entrance to that side of the store. At the table sat young Nathan playing a small keyboard. It was then that I realized what Nathan's position was at the Pontiac, Illinois Walmart Supercenter. He was an official "People Greeter," although, I would suggest that he was actually an ambassador of goodwill.

Yes! Young Nathan greeted people with the same enthusiasm, politeness and courtesy he had extended to me beginning in the men's room. I sat and watched and listened for a while. There were hugs, both given and received by Nathan. There were smiles and warm salutations. I watched him interacting with other store employees and there appeared to be a genuine warmth and friendliness that extended both ways. I spoke with one of the other employees and she said Nathan was a very special member of the staff and was respected and loved by all.

This special young man certainly did his best to not only make people feel welcome in "his" Walmart, but attempted to make everyone's day brighter because they crossed his path.

Oh yes! The table, the keyboard and the music. First, I wouldn't say, from my limited exposure, Nathan was a virtuoso musician. However, at the table he set up at the front of the store, there is a sign you can see clearly soliciting donations to the 2015 CMN. CMN stands for Children's Miracle Network. You'll also note a jar stuffed with cash. Nathan doesn't have to ask anyone to donate, he simply is a "miracle" himself. He never leaves the table without taking that jar with him. He understands how important the job is that he's doing and the responsibility he shoulders to help the children needing miracles. And, you bet your boots I put some cash in his jar.

Almost every day is a great day in my current living free lifestyle. I don't need much to make me smile and feel blessed. But, this particular day, a young man, Nathan, crossed my path doing what many might consider a somewhat menial job. Not Nathan. This seems to be his calling. His job is to make people smile and feel good, at least for a little while, regardless of what they may be dealing with in their personal lives.

Nathan and I chatted some more before I was preparing to leave the store to climb into My McVansion and continue on my journey. I asked Nathan if I could take a couple pictures and video record a short clip of him playing his keyboard. I told him I wanted to share my experience, on my blog, of meeting him and how he had made such a positive impression on me. He was delighted. I gave him one of my travel cards with my blog URL on it and told him to watch for my story about him in a week or two.

I hope he gets to see this and realize just how important he is to Walmart, the customers in Pontiac, Illinois, the children who will benefit from the Children's Miracle Network and to a world who needs to find and meet a lot more Nathans, the Walmart Greeter. Please share this blog article with your friends. I hope it will inspire them, too. And maybe some of my vandwelling and RVing friends will stop at the Pontiac, Illinois Walmart if they're ever passing through the area and meet Nathan themselves. I know he'd love to meet you.

Here's Nathan . . .